Bright Futures director recognized for work in Park City Latino community
Rebeca Gonzalez grew up attending the Holy Cross Ministries after-school program in the Park City School District. Now, the Park City resident and University of Utah student is gathering data to show the effect of educational programs on the community. And she is being honored for it.
Gonzalez, a senior studying Spanish teaching, was recently named the recipient of the University of Utah’s Charles H. Monson Essay Prize. She was selected for research that she helped conduct in collaboration with Holy Cross Ministries on the nonprofit’s school readiness program. The program includes preschool education for students and home visits to parents to teach them how to continue education at home.
The Monson Prize, which includes a $700 gift, is given annually to an undergraduate student at the U. who writes an essay involving social change. The selected winner must then write a five- to 20-page research paper about their work and present it to the Monson family and the Office of Undergraduate Research.
Gonzalez’s paper was titled “Supporting immigrant families through their involvement in early childhood education.”
She heard about the award last month, less than two weeks before the submission was due. One of her professors told her about it and encouraged Gonzalez to apply. When Gonzalez read the prompt, she said that the words “social change” caught her attention. One of the questions she had to address was, “In what way does your research contribute to social change?”
“I loved that question because I’m working with a population that is the most vulnerable in my community,” she said.
Gonzalez identifies as a Mexicana Latina.
For the research, which she began working on two years ago, Gonzalez meets with Latino families enrolled in the school readiness program, collects basic information and speaks with them about their experience in the program. Holy Cross Ministries hopes to better understand the impact that its program has on children and families in the community. Gonzalez said that she had no prior research experience before joining the research team.
“I said yes to the opportunity not knowing what I was going to be getting from it,” she said. “It has been the most rewarding thing that I have done in my career.”
When she heard about a way to share her research by applying for the Monson Prize, she took advantage of the opportunity. She condensed her research and a personal biography into about 700 words and submitted it mere hours before the midnight deadline.
She said she was intimidated to fill out the application because she knew that she was going against students who were doing incredible research, but she still had some hope.
A couple of weeks later, she got the email announcing her as the winner.
“I was in disbelief,” she said. “I immediately started to cry.”
She said that the award is meaningful in many ways. It is a personal honor because, as a first-generation college student, she is trail blazing by finding new opportunities. She can also use the experience as something to inspire others since she is the director of the Park City School District’s Bright Futures program, which helps first-generation students get to college.
Plus, she said that being recognized by her university reinforces that she is on the right path.
“Now they’re seeing all the hard work that I’ve put into my community since the day I graduated,” she said. “Now that they’re recognizing it, I feel like I’m ready to graduate and ready to continue the legacy. Their recognition means so much to me.”
Gonzalez is also glad to share the stories of her Latino community, because their voices are throughout the research, she said.
She plans to spend the next two months working on the research paper, while finishing up the data collection for the research.
“I’m excited to produce something that I am proud of, but also that I invested my time in,” she said.
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